Some waves were made as Amazon shot across Apple’s bow earlier this week by comparing the iPad mini (released today) with the Kindle Fire HD, Amazon’s latest tablet. It compared four major points: the screen quality, available video, speakers, and Wi-Fi. But Amazon didn’t seem too interested to go all the way with their own comparison. Thankfully, we’d do a much better job at it anyways.

Size

The two tablets are fairly close in actual size. Both are 7″ tablets, though the iPad mini is a wider 7.9″ and has an overall larger frame. The Fire HD shorter by just 7mm and wider by a mere 2.3mm, but much thicker at 10.3mm compared to the iPad mini’s tiny 7.2mm thickness. The Kindle is also much heavier at 395g versus 308g, making it overall a larger device that somehow still has a smaller screen.

That’s not surprising considering Apple’s major claim to fame is excellent design, both in looks and form. In nearly every way Apple’s small iPad is better sized than the Fire HD except for height.

Winner: iPad mini, which is lighter, thinner, and has a bigger screen.

Appearance

If I were British, I’d call Apple’s design posh. But we all know what the iPad mini looks like. What about the Kindle Fire HD? Well, it isn’t as good. Completely black but with a rubber back that’s good to grip, the Fire HD is by no means ugly but it isn’t the picturesque tablet you might want or expect from a device of this size. The thicker frame doesn’t help either. And the iPad mini’s machined edges help make it have that glittery shine.

Winner: iPad mini, which has beautiful machined edges and an exquisitely thin frame.

Display

Display is the first of Amazon’s three (four, but display is two) features that are much better than the iPad mini, and Amazon’s completely correct. The 7.9″ display on the iPad is good, but it has a lowly resolution of 1024×768, the same as the iPad 2. And the Fire HD? On the smaller 7″ screen is boasts a resolution of 1280×800, which is both much closer to widescreen (16:10 compared to 4:3). The additional pixels mean picture is much clearer, and means the pixel density is up at 215ppi instead of the iPad mini’s measly 163ppi.

But which is truly better? Well, by specs alone the Fire HD is light years ahead, so much so that it begs the question why Apple would ever sell a non-Retina tablet after the iPad. But the company did. The Fire HD will be better for reading, better for watching video and playing games, and in general better for everyday use.

Winner: Kindle Fire HD, which has a higher resolution widescreen display that is more dense for better reading and picture quality.

Operating System

On recent comparisons we’ve had a lot of discussion regarding iOS vs Android. I hear both sides of the argument daily. But the Kindle uses a very worked-over version of Android 4.0, which doesn’t support the Google Play Store, and has a very small store of its own. Apps available are minimal, and while the OS works well enough, the closed system has very few options available. If you aren’t using the Kindle Fire HD as a media device, it’s almost useless.

However, the Kindle Fire HD for Amazon Prime users is the only tablet device that enables users to stream video freely from the service on a tablet. That’s one of the main reasons for buying the Fire HD in the first place. That doesn’t make it a better overall OS, but it does make it much more approachable for Prime users who may want an iPad mini but want to watch their videos anywhere.

Winner: iPad mini, because iOS is a far more open OS with much more customization, options, and available apps.

Processor

If I didn’t have the numbers in front of me, this one would be tough. The TI OMAP 4460 is not that great a chip. It’s very power efficient and reasonably speedy, but aside from that it isn’t anything special. It’s really built for media playback, which makes perfect sense for the Kindle. And it isn’t a newer chip either.

The iPad mini has a nearly two year old A5 processor, the same in the iPad 2 (albeit the revised model that’s slightly faster and slightly better for power consumption). The thing is, the Fire HD has better numbers overall across the few applications that are available for benchmarking. I have no doubt that for standard processing the Fire is a better device…but not for graphics processing, which Apple has always been ahead of the curve for.

Then again, most people using both the iPad mini and Kindle Fire HD won’t need processing power for graphics. Not much, anyway.

Winner: Kindle Fire HD, which has a faster processor that does a better job of .

Storage

The iPad mini and Fire HD both ship with 16GB/32GB models, but only the iPad mini comes with a 64GB model. The reality is most people who own a Fire HD and use it with Amazon Prime won’t need more than the minimum 16GB, and the pricing that Amazon offers is much better, but in storage alone the iPad offers more options.

Winner: iPad mini, which offers a 64GB model.

Carriers

Carrier compatibility is one thing that Amazon doesn’t offer at all, which may be a serious problem for the Fire tablets. The larger 8.9″ Fire HD will offer LTE over AT&T (as well as HSPA+ and 3G) at an astounding price, but not the currently available 7″ Fire HD.

Winner: iPad mini, which offers carrier support cellular data plans.

Camera

The Fire HD doesn’t ship with a rear-facing camera at all, though both have 1.2MP front-facing 720p cameras.

Winner: iPad mini, which has a decent rear-facing camera.

Battery Life

Apple lists battery life at 10 hours, the same as all previous iPads, and they’ve been very close to the amount of time listed. In my experience they are usually within the hour, so at the minimum for typical use you’ll get at least nine hours per charge. As for the Kindle Fire HD? Amazon lists it for 11 hours, but across reading, streaming media, and app use. So which is better? Tough to say.

For now I’ll give Amazon the point because they label it for more time, but until I get a device in and properly test it through our battery life suite it’s impossible to know for certain. My experience with the iPad 2 and iPod Touch, both with equivalent components (for the most part) don’t really matter because the battery capacity is completely different. But i don’t have any doubt that if you were to choose between these two devices and use them regularly, the Kindle Fire HD would need more recharging over time because of the available video services that you would use. Thankfully for Amazon, using the device more doesn’t count against you in a battery test.

Winner: Kindle Fire HD, which claims an hour more lifespan and in my use is pretty accurate, but we’ll need an iPad mini in to confirm. All data, however, suggests that the Amazon tablet will last a little longer.

Price

Another easy one. The iPad mini starts at $330, while the Kindle Fire HD starts at a mere $200. So you can make a guilt purchase out of the Fire, but it takes a lot more moolah to put down for the iPad mini. Furthermore, if you want more space, the iPad mini jumps up $100 every time you double the capacity. The Kindle Fire HD only adds on another $50.

Winner: Kindle Fire HD, which is better priced at all points by a wide margin.

Overall Winner

Based on this chart alone, the numbers are pretty close but still in Apple’s favor. This isn’t surprising; there are a few features that Apple has that Amazon doesn’t, like cellular service, a rear-facing camera, and the option for 64GB of storage. In effect, that’s three whole points added to the iPad mini for things that the vast majority of people wouldn’t buy or use. So let’s take a look now at the actual point-value chart.

 

The real score isn’t actually that much closer. 3-2.5 is exactly a one-point difference compared to the above (3-2.5 doubled is 6-5, compared to 6-4), and the reason for that is simple: the few areas that the iPad mini wins in are more important to us as consumers. Size and appearance are both really important, even if they don’t seem it. We care how our posessions look and feel. The same with the display, although the difference here is we want both bigger and clearer. The iPad mini is bigger, the Fire HD is clearer.

Everything else is less important. The operating system is critical but depends on what you want to do (if you want Amazon Prime, then you need the Kindle. If not, the iPad mini is the better choice). The Processor matters but it’s slight. Most of us don’t require 64GB of storage, cellular coverage, and the difference in battery life is moot. The camera is a good option to have, but not major. The only thing that really counts completely is price, which the Kindle wins hands down.

I can’t argue that the iPad mini isn’t better. But the score is so close that it doesn’t depend on which one is better, but what’s better for you. With the Nexus 7 you could say “yeah, it’s clearly better/worse”, but not with these two. So choose carefully, with all of the points we made above.










James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.